The Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) is very ambitious. It seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for children across the world by the year 2030. Achieving this target is particularly significant in Nigeria where the state of education is daunting. In 2017, the World Economic Forum ranked Nigeria 120th out of 136 countries with regards to the quality of primary education. Similarly, over 10 million Nigerian children of primary school age were not enrolled in school in 2019. This is the highest number of out-of-school children globally.
In Nigeria, certain groups are more affected by the education crisis than others. For example, children in rural areas are worse off than their counterparts in urban areas, those in the Northern region in comparison to those in the Southern part, and girls in relation to boys. The overall state of education and the inequalities stemming from education access have severe implications on living standards, access to jobs, and economic growth.
Despite the efforts of the government, the private sector, and international donors towards addressing the challenges facing education in Nigeria, key obstacles continue to hinder its implementation.
What is obstructing the implementation of SDG4 in Nigeria?
Perhaps the most significant challenge that stands in the way of achieving SDG4 in Nigeria is funding. Although the government plays a dominant role in financing the SDGs, public funds remain inadequate. They are not sufficient to support the implementation. An estimate by UNESCO in 2015 puts the financial requirement to achieve SDG4 in Nigeria at about USD 34 billion per annum between 2015 and 2030.
To put the figure into perspective, Nigeria’s total federal budget for 2018 is USD 29.9 billion, with education accounting for only 7% of this amount. Sub-national governments have even smaller resources at their disposal to fund their budgets. This implies that if public resources are solely relied upon for implementing quality education goals, then Nigeria already faces an annual financing gap of over USD 32 billion.
Another factor that hinders the proper implementation of the global agenda is the limited alignment of crucial aspects of SDG4 to existing national policies. SDG4 relates to education objectives set in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), Nigeria’s medium-term development plan, and the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act, which is the main legal framework for primary education. But there are essential omissions in the national policies particularly relating to education quality and learning needs of internally displaced children.
Data on enrollment and other indicators on the access to education and educational resources are available. However, gaps remain in gathering useful metrics that capture learning outcomes at a disaggregated level. This is needed to track SDG 4 successfully. Even in the limited cases where data is available, it lacks sufficient periodicity. That fact makes it less useful for well-timed tracking of progress on SDG4.
What is the next course of action?
Given the highlighted implementation challenges, more proactive measures are required to meet the ambitious target set under SDG 4. Through our findings at the Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa (CSEA), within Southern Voice’s “State of the SDGs” project, we have come up with suggestions. We recommend the following interventions to:
The Nigerian Government
The crucial step in improving education financing is to ensure an increase in budgetary allocation to the sector. However, this will require a rise in domestic resource mobilization to expand fiscal space. It also means earmarking a significant proportion of the revenue accruing to the education sector. On the policy side, existing policies should be reviewed to integrate SDG4 into all national development plans. Its implementation should be institutionalized at state and local levels.
The Private Sector
The Addis Ababa Action Agenda highlights the importance of the private sector in the development agenda. Private sector partners should engage with the government to achieve SDG4. They can do so by internalising sustainable business practices and implementing more strategic corporate social responsibility programmes in education. The private sector is the primary source of innovation. It is therefore instrumental in bringing creative solutions and new technology to solve access and quality issues in education, particularly in hard-to-reach areas.
Investments from the private sector will also be vital in filling the funding gap. The growth of institutional investors in Nigeria, particularly pension funds and insurers, is mobilising capital that could be channelled to SDG4-related investment. Besides, public-private partnership initiatives de-risk investment in the social sector and ensure that private sector contribution is measured, not only in terms of profitability but also in terms of social impact. This will spur the private investment allocation to education.
The International Donor community
International donors are important actors in financing the global agenda given that domestic resources are inadequate in meeting the SDG financing needs. A large number of educationally disenfranchised children live in middle-income countries like Nigeria. That is why education programmes should be prioritised in the development assistance portfolio. It is also crucial to assist the government in capacity development to mobilize domestic resources. Donors can also provide a platform for developing countries to share, exchange and scale up development solutions.
With this multi-stakeholder approach and strategy, Nigeria will be better positioned to achieve SDG4 by 2030. This will contribute significantly to building an inclusive and sustainable society where every child has access to equitable and quality education.